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- Paranormal Beliefs & Experiences
Scotland has a rich and scary tradition of stories relating to the supernatural.
Many of the hauntings have a long history dating back over 700 years and more. From castles to dungeons, houses to underground vaults, pubs to lonely streets, it would seem that no place in Scotland is safe from ghostly inhabitants.
Let's start with Edinburgh, reputedly one of the most haunted cities in Europe, and its ancient castle.
There are numerous haunted castles in the UK and other parts of Europe. A few of these ghostly locations are found in Scotland.
Edinburgh Castle - Lothian - Central Scotland.
The castle stands on top of an ancient volcano in the centre of the capital city Edinburgh. The castle is over 800 years old but the 'rock' has been used as a defensive site since pre-historic times. The most enduring ghost is that of a headless drummer boy - although he tends to be heard more than seen. He is said to play his drum more so when the castle is in danger of attack. His ghostly drumming was first reported in 1650 prior to Cromwell's assault on the fortress. Sadly no one knows the identity of the boy or why he chooses to return to warn the living.
In addition, a lonely piper can be heard playing on the windswept battlements. He is thought to be the spirit of a piper lost in the maze of tunnels under the castle. There have been many reports by workers and visitors claiming to have heard his music when living pipers were not present.
Apart from the spirits named above, Edinburgh Castle also has many reports of shadow figures, orbs, mysterious mists, moving objects, cold spots and ghostly footsteps. There is also a poltergeist in one of the dungeons that is thought to be the spirit of a poor soul tortured while being held prisoner.
Glamis Castle (pronounced glams) - Angus - East Coast.
This beautiful structure has the dubious reputation of being one of the most haunted castles in Scotland. It has a fairytale-like appearance that lures you into a sense of false security.
One of the saddest ghosts is that of the beautiful Janet Douglas, the Lady Glamis. When her husband died King James V, who had been in feud with the family, accused her of witchcraft and had her burned at the stake in 1537. Her sad ghost has been seen frequently kneeling in prayer in the castle chapel.
The opposite of the calm and beautiful Lady Glamis is another ghost 'Earl Beardie'. This huge man was the Earl of Crawford and legend says that he haunts a secret room in the castle where he lost his soul to the devil in a card game. Children in particular have reported seeing this evil man leaning over them as they lay in bed. The secret room is also famous for another reason. Legend states that it hides a terrible secret, some stories say it is a monster locked behind the door. The tradition of the castle was to pass the 'secret' on to every heir on reaching their 21st birthday. Many believe this legend arose due to the malformed infant of one of the Earls. The child was locked up in a room and although cared for was never allowed out.
Craigievar Castle - Aberdeenshire - North East Scotland
First owned by the Mortimers' and later the Forbes' who completed the castle in 1626, it's now looked after by the National Trust for Scotland. The main ghost is a member of the Gordon family who fell in love with one of the Forbes' ladies. He was murdered by being forced out of a high window at sword point by Sir John Forbes. His ghost is seen around the castle, perhaps looking for his lost love or is he looking for revenge? Another ghost at the castle is only ever seen by members of the Forbes family. This ghost constantly plays the fiddle but whether the phantom fiddler's aim is to serenade the family or annoy them no one can say.
Culzean (pronounced kul-layn)Castle - Ayrshire - West Coast
The beautiful castle designed by Robert Adam in the 18th century stands on the site of much older buildings. One of the earlier parts of the building was built by Sir Thomas Kennedy who was murdered on the beach next to the castle in 1602. Some speculate that it is Sir Thomas's ghost that can be seen roaming the beach and grounds.
Culzean is another castle that has a piper as a resident spectre. Stories relate how the piper only appears when one of the Kennedy family are about to be married and he also plays on stormy nights. In this case the music of his pipes are heard faintly through the howling wind and crashing of the waves. There is also a legend of a knight of old who stalks the castle. He was murdered by a lady who was being held captive by him. She waited until she had soothed him to sleep and then stabbed him to death with his own dirk (knife).
Balcomie Castle - Kingdom of Fife - East Coast
The castle was built in the 1550's and has had many famous visitors. These incude Mary de Guise who stayed in the castle prior to her wedding with King James V. Mary and James were the parents of Mary Queen of Scots. The main ghost at Balcomie is not however royalty but a young man who was horrifically starved to death in one of the dungeons. His crime? According to the legend he refused to stop whistling.
Fernie Castle - Kingdom of Fife - East Coast
The castle was originally owned by the MacDuffs' before it passed into the hands of the Fernie family in the 15th century. Although today it's a hotel, the ghostly inhabitant is an echo from the past. She is called the 'green lady' and it is believed she fell to her death from one of the top storey windows. According to witnesses this ghost is harmless but she frequently interferes with TV's, lighting and any other electrical appliances that she finds interesting.
Stirling Castle - Stirlingshire - Central Scotland
Like Edinburgh, beautiful Stirling Castle sits on top of an extinct volcano. It is one of the most important strategic sites in Scotland, standing guard between the Lowlands and Highlands.The oldest parts of the building date from about the 14th century. However, the rock has been a defensive site and seat for royalty since the 7th century.
One of the most reported ghost sightings at Stirling is that of a beautiful woman in a pink gown. Many people believe that the apparition is that of Mary, Queen of Scots. However, the colour pink is not a colour Mary wore nor any other lady of her period. The other explanation is that the ghost is that of a much later female who is believed to be still searching for her lost husband.
Staying with the theme of Mary, Queen of Scots another spirit at the castle, the Green Lady, is said to be one of the lady's in waiting to Mary. This ghost is often associated with fire. Perhaps because one of Mary's lady's did save the Queen's life. When the Queen's bedclothes caught fire it was a lady-in-waiting who noticed the flames and woke Mary up just in time.
On a much more malevolent note the ghosts that haunt the Governor's House within the castle are reputed to be dark and unfriendly. Soldiers based at the castle have reported the sounds of footsteps, coming from an empty upstairs chamber, shadows and cold spots. In 1820 a young sentry was found dead in the room. There is still mystery surrounding his death as no cause was ever found. One description that was given out was that when the young soldier was discovered there was a frozen look of terror on his face.
The paranormal activity had become so intense that parts of the Governor's House was sealed off.
Have you ever seen a ghost or had some other kind of paranormal encounter?
People and Places
It's not only castles and mansions that have ghosts. In fact when we look at the evidence, there's a good case for believing that paranormal activity is just as frequent in ordinary locations as we shall see.
Jane of George Street, Edinburgh.
Apart from the sightings of this ghost now being rare it is also a very unusual spirit - the ghost sightings appeared before Jane had actually died.
The ghost is reported to be that of Jane vernelt who owned a prosperous business in George Street in the 19th century. For some reason Jane decided to sell her business but one week later appeared at her former shop in a hysterical state demanding to have her shop back. Naturally the new owner refused.
Jane's mental state did not improve and it is presumed that she was finally restrained in some form of mental care establishment. Shortly after this episode people began to report sightings of Jane's ghost - but the lady was still very much alive. It is speculated that due to her restraint and severe mental distress, this produced enough energy to project her image outwards.
However, shortly after being taken into care she died but the sightings of her ghost continued. Was this Jane's distressed spirit or simply residual energy?
Tay Bridge Disaster - 7.15pm 28th December 1879.
The old Tay Bridge from Fife to Dundee, had been battered by vicious storms for days, weakening the structure of the bridge. On the 28th December, 1879, officials quickly sent out word that no trains were to be allowed over the bridge until further notice.
Unfortunately the closure of the bridge came too late for one passenger train that had already began to move over the fragile, storm damaged structure. The failing bridge supports collapsed under the weight of the vehicle.The passengers and train plunged 88 feet down into the dark, freezing swells of the river.
Seventy nine people died. There were no survivors and 29 bodies remain missing to this day. It is not surprising then for people over the years to have claimed to see the ill-fated train re-enacting its moments of horror as it drops off the broken bridge into the River Tay. People also claim to have heard the terrified screams of the passengers and the screeching of brakes and metal as the ghostly train plunges into the River Tay below.
Mary King's Close Edinburgh
The gloomy and claustrophobic Mary King's close dates from the 17th century - a 'close' in Scotland is a very narrow alleyway or street, usually situated between two tall buildings.
In 1645 the plague struck Edinburgh and this indicated the end for this small street. It's reported that in order to try and contain the plague, the 'close' was sealed off by the council. The people, already infected by plague, were left to die.
One of the nicknames for the close is 'the street of sorrows'. When it was eventually rediscovered people were astonished to see this tiny street still intact, like a time capsule from the past. Needless to say Mary King's Close is one of the most haunted places in Edinburgh.
The most famous ghost is that of young child called Annie. Through first communications with the tiny spirit it was discovered that she had lost her doll and was still looking for it. This began a tradition of leaving gifts that continues today by visitors leaving toys for Annie to play with.
In addition to little Annie there are other ghosts that roam the murky street. One is a tall lady dressed in a long gown that is coloured black. She does not seem to interact with people but simply glides past astonished visitors. Another ghost is that of a small man who looks very troubled but again does not seem to know that visitors or workers are present. In addition to these ghosts there are numerous accounts of shadow figures, footsteps, poltergeist activity and strange smells.
One terrifying night a lawyer and his wife spent time alone in the close. The petrified couple later stated to friends that during the night the place had been alive with phantoms. These included the hovering head of a child, floating limbs and a monstrous dog-like figure curled up on a chair.
The site has been studied many times over the years by investigators from the UK and abroad. To date numerous paranormal activity has been caught on audio, video and camera. These include some impressive images of what may be a ghost.
Glasgow Royal Infirmary Hospital
The hospital dates from around 1792, standing next to Glasgow Cathedral. This wonderful old building has quite a few phantoms who are thought to walk its corridors. One ghost who haunts the surgical block is said to be that of a nun who was a nurse at the hospital. She is believed to have fallen to her death while trying to help a patient who was intent on committing suicide.
One of the strangest stories from the hospital involved that of a young doctor rushing to assist a patient who had suffered a cardiac arrest. As the doctor sped into the ward a man asked him for directions on how to leave the hospital. The doctor quickly pointed over his shoulder to the direction of the exit. When the doctor arrived at the patient who had arrested he was startled to see that it was the same man who had asked for directions to leave the hospital.
I hope you've enjoyed this small excursion into some of the haunted areas of Scotland. Obviously this is a very small selection from the thousands of stories that not only Scotland has, but so many other countries around the world.
Taking into account the many people who witness the same spiritual activity over different periods of time and under various circumstances, I for one, am convinced of the reality of ghosts and other phenomena. However, the best evidence anyone can ever have for the reality of these supernatural events is when they experience it for themselves. So take a trip to your nearest haunted location - you may be surprised, perhaps shocked at what you may see, feel, taste, sense or smell!